And they thought catching the serial killer was difficult…
Psychic Ariana Ryder just completed her probationary year and is now a full agent in the FBI’s Special Division Force, a semi-secret branch that investigates paranormal crimes.
The director, in a bid to score political points, puts Ariana on interrogating famous serial killer, JB Truck, aka The Puzzle Master. Truck’s been in prison two years and the authorities still can’t figure out who all his victims were or where his vast resources came from.
Ariana’s mission is simple, get visions off the psycho until they get the information they need.
But nothing’s ever simple when there’s magic afoot. The vampire queen’s gunning for Ariana, there’s a new shifter in town who needs a psychic’s help, and Truck’s got a few tricks of his own.
And he didn’t end up in Nashville by accident.
Grant stood behind me, restin’ his large hands on my shoulders. “If you can’t handle it, or he gets to you, or anything, we’ll leave. Don’t hesitate to call it quits.”
“Are you saying that cuz now you know I won’t call it quits, General?”
“No. I’m saying it because I know you won’t want to call it quits if you think it will disappoint me. I’m telling you right now, it won’t.” His face hardened. “Is that understood, Ryder?”
I met his eyes in the mirror.
The icy green depths drew me in, settling calm down to my bones.
No clue if it was part of his powers or just him.
I licked my lips. “Crystal, sir.”
He nodded once and jerked his chin.
We walked into the observation room.
You always put the interrogatee in before the interrogator, that way they can stew or whatever.
Grant made a call and not three minutes later, two agents walked the psycho in from the hall’s entrance.
He didn’t look like a psycho.
He looked a bit younger than his thirty-five years, was around Grant’s height of six foot one, and kinda scrawny. His brown hair was a little shaggy, and he had a light layer of scruff that amplified his strong features. His dark brown eyes sparkled as we walked into the room, and he grinned at the mirror, showing off full lips and straight teeth.
Holy crap on a cracker, he was cute.
Well, I guess if he actually looked like a psycho, he wouldn’t have been able to lure that many people. He wasn’t the jump out and grab ‘em type of psycho. Most of his victims were women he picked up in bars and clubs.
At least, the one’s the authorities had found.
The rest of them could be along the same lines, but we weren’t sure.
I guess that was my job to figure out too.
“You ready?” Grant asked.
Truck smiled at us through the glass… like he could see us through the double-sided mirror.
“This guy doesn’t have any kind of powers, right?” I asked.
Grant didn’t say anything.
“Nothing on record,” Grant said.
“Are you sensing something?”
He paused again. “I don’t know. I don’t like this.”
He opened the door into the interrogation room and waved me through.
Truck smiled, lookin’ me up and down like we were in a bar and finished by meeting my eyes.
“They weren’t exaggerating,” Truck said. “You are beautiful. And so little.”
He stared into my eyes and I looked away, trying not to smile.
Shouldn’t a serial killer have seemed more… creepy! The words could’ve easily been creepy, but he was downright charming.
“I love shy women,” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. I’m JB.”
“Special Agent Ryder,” I said.
He held up his hands, making the chains clink as they hit the end of their length. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m kind of tied up at the moment.”
I covered my smile.
Oh crap on a cracker and kittens too, I was in trouble.
“You’re here to talk to me,” Grant said, making me jump.
I stepped to the side and my boss sat across from Truck.
“Hey,” Truck said, “I’m JB. You must be Special Agent Grant. They told me about you too.”
Who was they?
I walked behind Truck, hovering in his blind spot. Interrogators do it all the time. It’s supposed to intimidate people.
JB, er, Truck… Truck, smiled at me in the mirror.
“And that’s not what I agreed to,” Truck said.
“You agreed to talk,” Grant said in a tone that would terrify me.
He has this really soft voice he gets when he’s angry. It’s so scary cuz you know he’s gonna do something when he has it.
I’ve seen him punch a criminal so hard the guy dropped like a load of bricks after using that voice, and he switched from talkin’ soft to screaming at another one, and broke that guy faster than a cowboy with a new colt.
“Where’s your dumping ground?” Grant asked.
Truck didn’t take his eyes off me and I shivered as I reached forward.
“Are you supposed to be touching the psycho?” Truck asked. “I don’t know.” He shook his head and tutted. “I could claim abuse, and since my lawyer isn’t here, you could get in real trouble.”
“The interview’s being recorded,” Grant said, still stone-cold calm. “She’s here to observe. You’re talking to me.”
“Nope.” Truck shrugged.
I took a deep breath, hand shakin’ as I lifted it again. Nope, not ready yet.
“I agreed to meet without a lawyer,” Truck said, “because I was promised an audience with a pretty, young agent. So unless she starts talking, and you leave, I’m not saying a word until my lawyer gets here.”
Grant met my eyes over Truck’s head.
I nodded and Truck’s eyes reached a new level of luminance as I reached out with my pinky.
I didn’t want any more contact with him than necessary.
I was already gonna have to boil my skin just from being attracted to him.
My pinky met flesh.
The young boy, maybe thirteen, smiled at a little one, no more than five.
“It’s so cool; you got to see it,” the teen said, pulling the child’s hand.
The teen was Truck, had to be.
The little boy had the delicate face of an angel, floppy light blond curls, and the biggest green eyes I’d ever seen.
He nodded and followed, little legs going at super speed to keep up.
They tromped from the typical suburban neighborhood down the street to woods looming up at a dead end like they were trying to eat the bit of civilization humans had carved out.
The boys walked down a path obviously forged by hundreds of human feet over the years and hit a dense patch right before the ground sloped down.
“Over here,” teen Truck said, veering off the path to the right.
They plowed through the trees and Truck picked up a length of rope just lying on the ground. He grabbed the little boy’s arms and tied them behind his back.
The boy’s mouth moved and it took a moment for me to realize the sound had cut off.
Truck picked up a roll of duct tape and ripped off a piece, slapping it over the kid’s mouth.
Truck tied another rope over the one already holding the child’s hands behind his back and tossed it over a branch, making a crude pulley. Truck grabbed the end of the rope and yanked.
The little boy went up and his arms jerked up backwards.
I stumbled away from Truck, swallowing bile.
I’ve seen some terrible things in two years as a psychic.
But I’d never seen someone hurt a child with that kind of cold, planned heartlessness.
I swallowed again and managed to drag my gaze up, keeping my eyes unfocused as they passed Truck and I found Grant’s eyes.
Grant nodded once and I turned, hitting the door, Grant close behind.
I sobbed and bent over, wrappin’ my arms around myself soon as the door was closed.
“It’s okay.” Grant wrapped his thick arms around me, holding my tight against his chest as I babbled it out.
“And the entire time, I could feel him,” I said. “He didn’t feel guilty, or sad, or even crazy, he just wanted to see what would happen, like a kid holding a magnifying glass over an ant. That’s all that little boy was to him, nothing more than an ant.”
“That’s what other people are to psychopaths like this,” Grant said, as though that was supposed to comfort me.
Funny, it didn’t.
“I think that little boy was his first kill, or attack, or whatever. We need to find out what happened to him, General.”
“Can you handle being in there?” he asked, letting me go.
I turned, staying close so I could feel his body heat.
“Ariana,” he said, starin’ into my eyes like he was trying to read the answers off my brain, “if you can’t do this, say so.”
“I can do it. I’m fine.” I gulped and nodded.
“You are a horrible liar.”
I nodded again.
Grant opened the door and I wiped out under my eyes before walkin’ back in.
Truck grinned like a teenage boy who just won a date with the homecoming queen.
“What was that?” Truck asked. “You seemed to lose it a little. And what are these?” He pointed at the incense bowl.
“Where did you bury the rest of your victims?” Grant asked, hovering behind the man along with me.
Truck couldn’t have looked more relaxed if he was sitting on a beach in Maui drinking pina coladas.
“Get me my lawyer, we’re done,” Truck said. “Unless you leave; then we’ll see if your little girl can’t talk it out of me.”
I looked at Grant.
The last vision was useless if I couldn’t find the location of his victims.
I couldn’t have gone through that for nothing.
“He’s all yours, Ryder,” Grant said, walking out.
He’d be watching from behind the mirror, but I was still alone in the room with the psycho.
“Please, sit,” Truck said. “I can’t stand sitting while a lady is standing. It’s so rude.”
I forced a smile and took a deep breath.
Okay, channel your inner Grant.
“I’m good standing,” I said. “Now, as my boss said, where is your dumping ground?”
“Your people found my dumping ground.”
“No, they found the latest one in Atlanta. We know there’s at least one more from your earlier kills, and since you grew up outside Nashville, we’re betting it’s around here.”
“And how do you know there’s more?” he asked, propping his chin on his hand, looking at me in the mirror.
“Because you told the agents who captured you as much.”
“I could have been lying.”
True, but the shrinks who analyzed him and, more importantly, Grant, didn’t think so.
“Our shrinks say you weren’t. So yeah, we’ve got to try to get it out of you.”
“Oh honey, you can get anything out of me you want.”
My stomach dropped and he smiled that same wide, almost innocent smile.
“You are going to be so much fun to play with,” he said.
I crossed my arms.
Let the games begin.
(Check it out on Amazon here.)